We just finished our first Learning Festival! We were warmly welcomed by the Challenger Learning Center in Hazard, Kentucky, one of the 47 centers across the country started by the families of the Challenger Astronauts killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster. Students from all over Kentucky flock to Challenger for a variety of STEM programs, including Spokes (for the third year) and a chance to simulate space missions.
In eastern Kentucky, a region plagued by the decline of the coal industry followed by the rise of opium addiction, it is crucial that schools adapt to the new needs of the local economy. We met the former governor of Kentucky and other politicians who emphasized the urgency of this issue. Companies like Bit Source are turning laid-off coal miners into software engineers (read more: BitSource). One guy I met has successfully put iMacs into schools across eastern Kentucky on the condition that they be left on at all times so that when not in use by students, they work as a super computer doing cancer research (read more: DataseamGrid).
Our two day circus of STEM was in no way a solution to the problem, but it was a step in the right direction. Our team often discussed the balance between teaching and inspiring, how we can do both, and how we can make the biggest impact. My favorite teaching moment was while teaching the four color theorem by having the kids color a map of the US. I asked them to explain their strategy on how to use as few colors as possible and one kid explained how he started with coloring Kentucky because it borders seven states. Other states border more, but Kentucky borders an odd number so it is going to need more colors. This is exactly the strategy behind the four color theorem, but it was only coincidence that the kids were from the most strategic state to color first!
Thank you Hazard for making our first Learning Festival a joy to teach. As Dukes and Duchesses of Hazard*, we are ready to continue on our journey of biking and teaching and a whole lot in between. Thanks for reading, y’all!
* After the first day of teaching, one of the board members at Challenger had us over for a cookout with delicious southern home-cooking. During dessert, they presented us with certificates granting us official Duke and Duchess status of Hazard. Too bad we were all to young to get the reference and the Hazard in the TV show takes place in Hazzard, Georgia.